The most obvious person to foray with into contemporary Hungarian art is probably the country’s representative at its pavilion at the Venice Biennial. 60 year-old Peter Forgács remembers living under what he calls “Communism-lite” pre-1989, and his multimedia art installations go back in time to reuse older film footage to tell stories in new ways. This is true of Col Tempo, his project at Hungary’s pavilion.
Col Tempo takes film footage from a Third Reich anthropological study that attempted to discern the differences between how Jewish prisoners and Germans looked. Forgács turns all the footage into head shots, so the people are stripped of identifying clothing, and includes footage of people like himself and Rembrandt. The video head shots are placed in gilt frame and placed on a grid on the walls, like a macabre Victorian gallery or Hogwarts. People make their way through rooms of disorienting portraits staring back out at them.
Via Art in America,
“The allusive then gives way to the factual. In large-screen projections, visitors will see Wastl measure and film shirtless subjects on swivel chairs and assistants make plaster masks of the subjects’ faces. Monitors arranged in a triangle will show footage of prisoners on the ground and wrapped only in blankets, guards marching in formation and village women chatting. The anonymous faces from the earlier rooms become recognizable here in their real-life roles and settings, underscoring the uncertainty and contingency of our routine assessments of one another. A man with a warm smile, for example, turns out to be a Nazi guard. As a farewell to visitors, Forgács himself makes a series of absurd grimaces that are projected across three screens”
Forgács wanted to make his installation less about the holocaust and focus more on individual people’s identities and question snap judgements.
His previous projects also question memory, time, and identity through real footage stripped of its original intent and repurposes it. The Danube Exodus, done in conjunction with The Labyrinth Project, takes original footage and represents it in an immersive environment to tell three different stories of displaced minorities. On view through August 2 at the Jewish Museum in New York, you can see Forgács work here even if you don’t make in to Venice. This might just be in the cards for me today.